Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Word from Ezra & Nehemiah

Read - Think - Apply

…the emphasis on purity concerned mainly those things from the world in which the Jews lived that were incompatible with the principles of their religion. The most dangerous threat came from a surrogate of their religion, such as the Samaritan or Ammonite form. In opposition to this, Ezra and Nehemiah stressed the pure or orthodox form, a tendency already present, for example, in 1-2 Kings against the syncretistic religion of the northern kingdom. The Jewish exiles came to live in Judah surrounded by all kinds of religions as well as surrogates of their own religion. They were poor and to a certain extent depended on their foreign neighbours for business. It was impossible to exclude foreign contact. In such circumstances the way of the least resistance would be to accept certain principles of the foreign neighbours in order to live in peaceful co-existence. But these principles might be incompatible with the principles of the Jewish religion, such as the sabbath law (Neh 13). Once they had conceded on certain points, it would become more and more difficult to keep up the principles of their own religion. The next step would be to become so familiar and associate on such a friendly footing with foreigners that intermarriage became possible. The danger of this development was grasped fully by Ezra and Nehemiah…

Therefore, strong minded leaders like Ezra and Nehemiah were necessary to take stern measures to protect the purity of the religion. Ezra and Nehemiah were driven to these actions not out of nationalistic feelings, but from a concern to protect the religious cult of the Lord. In a word, they were religiously motivated. They were also aware of the special call of the returned exiles to serve the Lord in accordance with the prescriptions of the law. They were an elect group with a special mission to serve the Lord in the context of pure religion. It is amazing that such a small, poor group of people could have become the foundation for the development of one of the largest religions of modern times, Christianity. But in the religion of the Lord it is not numbers but purity of heart that counts.

From: The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah – C Fensham (NICOT), p18

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Gift

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.

If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.

If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.

If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.

But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God, in his great love, sent us a Saviour.

(Source unknown)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Taking Liberties

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (Rom 8:5)

You my brothers were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather serve one another in love. (Gal 5:13)

Christian liberty is a wonderful thing – it is God treating us as adults. Back in the Old Testament the situation was very different – the Law regulated almost every area of a person’s life in great detail. So you were told precisely when and how to worship, what you could eat, what you could wear, what day to take off…the list goes on. The Bible calls that period in the history of God’s people a time of infancy and even slavery (Gal 4:1ff). But with the coming of Jesus those who live by the Spirit have been brought to maturity or adulthood (Gal 4:25). That is, they have been granted freedom from lives strictly governed by rules. Because when you think about it the thing that children and slaves have in common is this: they both live under the authority of others coupled with the threat of punishment if they don’t comply.

In contrast for the Christian there is liberty – liberty to follow God not out of legal compulsion but out of a renewed heart. So no orders about when and how often you must attend church services, no instructions about where or how often you can have a drink, no commands about how much time you ought to take off….

Now at this point, natural legalists that we are, we can start to feel a bit twitchy. We worry that we are opening a door to moral anarchy and a Christian free-for-all. After all if there are ‘no rules’ then surely our churches will go to the dogs with lack of commitment and respectability. Well here we need to go back to the idea of being an adult in Christ…

My six year old son needs rules. For example, he needs his bedtime to be set and enforced by an adult . If it was left up to him he would stay up all night if possible – but it would ruin him of course. He is a child – he doesn’t have the maturity to make a wise decision about when he should get to bed. At age six you will push every boundary and if they are not enforced you will have no rerstraint in doing all sorts of foolish things. I, on the other hand, have no-one to tell me when to go to bed – I am subject to no rules in that area of my life. But as an adult, I have the wisdom and maturity to realise that if I don’t get to bed at a reasonable hour then I’ll suffer for it – so by and large I go to bed at a reasonable time without external compulsion. In fact, I know if I don’t regulate myself then the consequences will be destructive – sloppy at work, irritable with kids and lazy at home. However, once every 4 or 5 years I do stay up ‘all night’ – to watch the election results! You see I have the liberty to do that on occasions – while not allowing that liberty to become a harmful pattern.

So once in while you may have an exhausting Saturday and really need to rest on Sunday morning and thus miss church – no problem, you have that liberty. Once in while you go to a bar for a work night out and have a drink – no problem, you have that liberty. But if every Saturday I commit myself to activities that render me exhausted on Sunday, or if every weekend I’m in the bar drinking – then I need to ask myself if my liberty is becoming an excuse for irresponsibility in other areas of life?

So Christian - all grown up in Jesus: how will you use your new liberties? No-one will force you to get to church regularly, attend a prayer meeting, give time to a service activity – you have the freedom to be involved or not in any such things – you are ‘an adult’ and adults aren’t subject to a child’s regime. But if we use our freedom just as an excuse to regularly lie in on Sunday morning, to skip the prayer meeting or not bother about service – then we are behaving more like children than adults.

Enjoy the freedom and liberty that Christ has brought you – throw off the legalistic guilt that comes from basing holiness on slavish rule keeping. But do so as a grown-up – ‘in your thinking be adults’ (1 Cor 14:20). Remember that while ‘everything is permissable…not everything is beneficial’ (1 Cor 8:12)*.

Being a Christian is about standing in grace – not rigid box ticking (legalism) or living self indulgently (license) – but living responsibly, sacrificially and with maturity for the welfare of others and glory of God.

Paul is speaking here not about moral issues of course, but about issues of conscience and good practise.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Shack - a review

'The Shack' by Wm Paul Young is a New York Times bestseller - but why is a book about meeting 'the Trinity' in a shack it proving so popular among non-Christians & some Christians alike.

Paul Grimmond assesses it in The Briefing - see link below.

The Briefing Library: We need more shack time

Posted using ShareThis

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Be Gentle

So I say live by the Spirit… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Gal 5:16,22-23)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Col 3:12)

...but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children (1 Th 2:7)

Gentleness’ – it’s hardly rock n’ roll, cutting edge or in fashion. Our culture generally regards it as something to associate with kittens, soppy aunts and luxury toilet paper. The esteemed characteristics of our age – the ones perceived to have ‘real value’ – are efficiency, dynamism, single-mindedness, and being an achiever. Alan Sugar, Simon Cowell & Duncan Bannatyne (none of whom immediately conjures up a picture of gentleness) are among the new high priests of this ‘no nonsense, straight talking, not suffering fools, goal driven’ approach to life. An approach that esteems measurable results over what it sees as vague sentiment. Now, of course, in the workplace tough decisions have to be taken and none of this is to say that the above characteristics don’t have value in certain contexts.

The danger is, however, that these values and role models could lead us to develop a certain hardness and insensitivity in our dealings with others. A mindset of being ‘results’ orientated, needing to maximise efficiency (e.g. maximum output for lowest cost) and penalising ‘failure’ can all too easily seep into church-life. Inevitably one of the first casualties when we go down those kind of roads will be ‘gentleness’. We will become desensitised to the individual lives of our Christian brothers and sisters and instead start to assess them just as parts of a 'church machine' or components in a strategy.

One of the outcomes in the history of ecomonic thinking was the development of the idea of ‘human capital’. This meant that people became categorised in the same way as machinery and fields – as assets or components in the profit making exercise. But in a godly world-view people can never just be seen as components in an enterprise. Thus however much such a view of people might prevade the economic world we need to see people through Christ-like eyes – that is, as infinitely valuable souls made in the image of God.

So as un-macho or inefficient as it might appear to our society we need to put being gentle back at the forefront of how we engage with people. Gentleness is a Christ-like characteristic – it means being sensitive to the feelings of others – some fruits bruise very easily, that’s why we handle them gently. It means taking time to listen and not assume we know ‘their problem’ or that our assessment is the best one. It means keeping things in proportion - e.g. the irony that you can expect to be shown grace if you commit some great moral sin but have strips taken off you if you make a mistake with the PowerPoint!* It means speaking to others, whoever they are, with respect and consideration.

Being gentle is not weakness – it is a way in which we give power away and we can only do that from a position of strength – the strength that comes from being secure in Christ and having a confidence about God’s love for us. The off-hand and the bully have the real weakness of needing to feel superior over others in order to have any sense of self-worth.

In a fractured and individualistic world being gentle with others (starting in the church) will be a radical and counter-cultural witness to the power of Christ in our lives.

* Obviously it’s right that we show grace for sins – it’s the contrast – you know what I mean.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

SNAG - Faith or Fantasy

'saturday nights at greenview' 08-09

This winter snag will be looking at aspects of Christian apologetics. Once again a range of well qualified speakers will lead us through our subjects - with opportunity for questions, discussion & fellowship in our cafe setting.

The evenings kick-off at 7.30pm (cafe open from 7pm) and everyone with an interest in finding out how the Christian faith stands up to tough questions is welcome to join us. See below for details.


SNAG talks can be found on-line HERE


The programme is...

Sat 11th October - Don't Leave Your Brain at the Door (Why apologetics is not saying sorry)

Speaker: Donald Ferguson (is a History teacher with a special interest in apologetics and is embarking on studies interacting with the work of Cornelius Van Til)

Sat 8th Nov - Is Anybody There? (Can we be sure God exists?)

Speaker: Dr Tony Sargent (is the Principal of International Christian College in Glasgow, an author and experienced pastor)

Sat 13th Dec - The Problem of Pain (How can God allow evil & suffering?)

Speaker: Prof Ken McPhail (is Professor of Social & Ethical Accounting at Glasgow University and Director of the Centre for Ethical & Legal Philosophy)

Sat 10th Jan - Is Christianity Credible? (Can we have confidence in the Bible?)

Speaker: Dr Bob Fyall (is Senior Tutor in Ministry at the Cornhill Training Course in Glasgow, an Old Testament scholar and experienced pastor)

Sat 21st Feb - Exposing the Cracks (The inadequacies of alternative beliefs)

Speaker: Dr Daniel Frank (is Minister of Mission & Discipleship at Orchardhill Church of Scotland in Glasgow)

Sat 21st Mar - Faith under the Mircoscope (Can science & faith coexist?)

Speaker: Dr Paul Knox (is a Reader in Vision Science at the University of Liverpool, he has a PhD in Neurobiology and was a post doctoral fellow at both Hull and Edinburgh Universities).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Day 5: Parched - Overwhelmed - Misjudged?

Day 5 - See the point...
Further thoughts on Ps 42&43 (with the help of John Goldingay)

Throughout these two psalms the pattern has been: a venting of the frustration and pain felt; the application of the mind as the situation is put in its bigger context – i.e. he had known joy before and he will know joy again. Throughout the psalmist repeatedly argues himself back to the place of trusting in God – he reassures his soul that hoping in God is not folly.

If all this seems a grim picture of struggle, a see-saw of hope and depression – then take courage because we are following in hallowed footsteps. Jesus Himself walked this path...

Jesus was parched: ‘I thirst’ (Jn 19:28). Thirsty for water, yes. But supremely experiencing the unimaginable holocaust of God’s withdrawal, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ (Mt 27:46).

Jesus was overwhelmed: ‘Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say’ (Jn 12:27); ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death’ (Mt 26:38).

Jesus was misjudged: taunted with the voices of accusation: ‘He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him’ (Mt 27:43).

In Psalm 22 – that great ‘Messianic Psalm’ – there is a little space in my Bible between v21 and v22. Up to that space the psalm is an expression of despair and a plea for deliverance. After the space it is a psalm of praise celebrating vindication. But in that little gap – Jesus died.

We may not physically face death in our struggles – but sometimes just as hard is accepting that our struggles may not end before part of our old self is put to death. To end our posturing, our pretending, our self-seeking – and simply to put our hope in God. Jesus (a) died for the sins of others so (b) that they might die to self and live in Him. We love the first bit – we generally find the second a harder proposition! ‘No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it’ (Hb 12:11).

God is in control – he has promised to transform us into the image of His Son. He will move heaven and earth to do so. There is nothing that God has not harnessed to work for the good of those who love him (Rom 8:28) – even our adversity. Our circumstances are never purposeless. So ‘soul’ why are you so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, My Saviour and my God’

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day 4: Parched – Overwhelmed – Misjudged?

DAY 4: Take heart...
More thoughts on Ps42&43 (inspired by and taken from John Goldingay).

Sometimes children will misbehave just to get attention. It reveals something deep within us – we fear feeling ignored more than feeling uncomfortable. Bereaved people can often fear the very notion that they might one day no longer feel distraught – the grief itself is ‘cherished’ as giving one last tangiable sense of connection to the departed. We hate the thought that that might be lost as well.

The psalmist reels under the sense that God’s hand is against him – but yet the very fact that God is dealing with him at all (that is, He is not indifferent) gives a form of comfort. There is no doubt who is responsible for the situation: ‘your’ (42:7b); ‘your’ (42:7d). Nothing happens without God’s permission and will.

‘For even God’s hostility is a mark of his involvement…Even God’s rejection is an indication that he bothers. It provides a basis for conversation. It is one better than being ignored.’ *

So even our troubles are an indication that God is interested in us – our lives are significant to him – he is working on us. The psalmists often feel God is absent and they are shut off from him. But heaven’s apparent silence never extinguishes their prayers – it provokes them. How wise God is.

So we rail and we wrestle, we cry and we contend – we engage. Faith is never more real because the odds are never so great. But we can take courage because our very trials demonstrate that we have God’s attention – and because we know He is good we can, no matter how many times we go down fight back up, saying to ourselves: ‘Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God’ (42:5,11; 43:5).

*J Goldingay, Songs from a Strange Land' (IVP 1978), p36

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Day 3: Parched - Overwhelmed - Misjudged?

DAY 3: Think it through…
More thoughts on Ps 42&43 inspired by and taken from John Goldingay.

The book of Lamentations is based on acrostic poems (in Hebrew). So that every letter of the alphabet is systematically used as the writer pours out his anguish. It has been noted that this makes the expression of grief both thorough but also constrained. So that while the grief is fully laid out – it is not endless – it has a limit.

The psalmist, as we have seen, doesn’t hold back on expressing his frustrations – but equally he knows there is a time to move on. Even as he vents his emotions he applies his mind.

The Past (42:4)
He remembers days gone by – good days, times of joy and spiritual health. Such recollections were ‘no doubt, a bitter sweet experience’. On the one hand such memories could just make his present situation all the more painful – but on the other hand it reminds us ‘that the present situation is not permanent. It had a before, and (as we shall see later) it will have an after’.

Perhaps we look back to better days – days of joyful service, excitement about church and Christian activities, days when being a Christian seemed full of promise. In times of darkness we may be tempted to think that even those days weren’t really real – that we were kidding ourselves even then. But they were real – they did exist – it was like that.

The bad thing about good things, and the good thing about bad things, is this: they both come to an end.

Talk to yourself…
Just as he praised God back then the psalmist (although not quite there yet) tells himself that one day he will know the delight of praising God again: ‘Why are you downcast, O my Soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, My Saviour and my God.’

The repeated refrain of these two psalms centres on the psalmist talking to himself (42:5,11; 43:5) - articulating to himself spiritual truth. It is the sermon we must preach to ourselves – ‘come on, hang-in there, God understands – he is not trying to crush me, he is on my side (Rom 8:31). To defiantly assert that one day this will pass and I will stand in the place of joyful praise once again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Day 2: Parched - Overwhelmed - Misjudged?

(Further thoughts on Ps 42&43 – taken from & inspired by John Goldingay’s, Songs from as Strange Land, (IVP 1978).
DAY TWO - Let it out...

I’m Parched (42:1-3)
We wait and wait and wait – for the breakthrough, for the experience, for the moment when God will at last come crashing in. We tire of staggering like people chasing mirages in the desert – ‘my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?’ We feel we are running on empty – like climbers (to switch metaphors) gasping at thin air on a high peak. It is exhausting.

I’m overwhelmed (42:6-7, 9-10)
The image is now of gushing and crashing waters – but they are neither thirst quenching or refreshing. These are the waters of chaos that engulf downing people. Everywhere we turn another wave seems to swamp us. Robert Harris in his latest novel describes a man ‘not so much out of his depth as no longer able to see the shore’ – we know that feeling. We cry, as the psalmists did with pain, anger and weariness, ‘Lord give me a break!’

I’m misjudged (43:1-2)
‘At first it was ‘I can’t get to God’ (42:1-2); then ‘God has forgotten me’ (42:9); now ‘God has abandoned me’ (43:2). We feel out on a limb, disconnected – we can’t do it ourselves and it’s not as we’d hoped. The pain & humiliation is all the more accute because we wonder if we have been fools – we could have understood our circumstances if we had thrown in the towel with God – but really we didn’t. The (unspoken) accusation of others, ‘Where is your God now?’ – is all the more cutting because we are asking ourselves the same question. Why? (42:9a) – Why? (42:9b) – Why? (43:2a) – Why? (43:2b)

‘The psalmist has his longings and his frustrations, his distress and his hurt, his resentment and his anger; he does not hide them.
And it is before God that he gives expression to them. This is not merely an emotional catharsis, like crying one’s heart out in an empty room, or losing one’s temper and taking it out on the cushions. It is more adult to say what one feels to the person one regards as responsible, and the psalmist is not afraid to do that. He does not hestiate to be quite straight with God. He assumes that God is big enough to take it and loving enough to asbsorb it.’

Monday, August 25, 2008

Parched - Overwhelmed - Misjudged?

A walk through Psalms 42&43...
DAY ONE - the verses.
'most of Scripture speaks to us, while the Psalms speak for us'
'God does not seem to make his presence felt. He seems difficult to find.'*

'I'm parched' (42:1-3); 'I'm overwhelmed' (42:6-7, 9-10); 'I'm misjuged' (43:1-2)

Psalm 42 (NIV)
For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.
1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, "Where is your God?"
4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.
5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and
6 my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.
8 By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?"
10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?"
11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Psalm 43 (NIV)
1 Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men.
2 You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?
3 Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.
4 Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.
5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

*Quotes: from John Goldingay, Songs from a Strange Land (IVP 1978)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Having a laugh...

The new Edinburgh ‘Comedy Festival’ is attracting comment….

‘When I first performed as a comedian at the Assembly Rooms back in 1997 there was a very large and healthy comedy scene that had been snowballing rapidly since the previous decade… Through the Nineties and into the Noughties that snowball became an avalanche.’
(Jackie Clune, Observer Review, 8th June 2008)

‘…this is the first year ever in which comedy has outweighed theatre – 32 percent of the total 2088 acts, versus 29 percent.
(Mark Monahan, Daily Telegraph 18 August 2008).

‘Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.’ (Ecclesiastes 7:3)

Comedy it seems is becoming increasingly dominant in popular culture. It has been dubbed the new ‘rock n’ roll’. So whereas the pathway to being cool and famous for those growing-up in the 60s & 70s was to get a guitar and join a band – now it’s to get a tight set of observational anecdotes and a mike. Comedians sell out vast stadiums at £25 a ticket. Digital TV channels show endless sitcoms and the hippest shows are those that make us laugh. Our appetite for the humorous is apparently insatiable.

A friend of mine commented on a well known Christian conference that many of the speakers would have held their own on the stand-up circuit. Talk after talk was jammed with content that kept the listeners laughing in the aisles. Indeed, my friend said, one of the main teachings of the week was that ‘we needed to laugh more in church’. The message was that church ought to produce a feel-good factor – thus the best kind of pastors, like the speakers on show, will make their congregations chuckle.

Now, of course, the purpose of church is not to glory in dourness or to create a ‘fun free’ zone in people’s lives. Godly humour is a gift, a wholesome & natural part of life – so Christians need not fear it. The Bible often contains irony designed to raise a smile*. However, food is also a God-given gift – but too much of a good thing can be a very bad thing. So laughter, if it starts to become the benchmark of a ‘good service’, can become a real danger.

Most churches in my limited experience have got the balance about right – but the pressure is there – entertain and the plaudits will come, give serious challenge and the response will often be more muted. So the insecure church leader thinks, ‘more funnies! – that’s what people like, that’ll make my ministry appreciated’. The tragedy being that the serious challenge is more often what we need – our life is a battle with sinful flesh and woe betide us if we are allowed to forget it.

The Bible knows the value of both laughter and seriousness – and it is the latter it gives a premium too (Ecc 7:1-6). So we need to be on our guard – the trend in culture is ‘make me laugh’ – and like all such trends it will push at the doors of our churches. Yes, let’s enjoy the gift the humour in church. Let’s not think that uptight joyless gloom is the stuff of authentic spirituality. But equally let’s not equate Biblical worship with wit, joy with jokes, or leadership with light entertainment.

*I would state the humorous element of the Bible no more strongly than this. I have heard some preachers present the Bible as almost a divine joke-book in defending their use of humour - a classic example, I think, of overstating your case.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tim Keller @ Google

Great apologetics talk by Tim Keller to the staff at Google in California.

You can find this and other good stuff on Paul Rees' Gospel Growth Blog.
For more on Tim Keller & 'The Reason for God' see HERE & HERE

Friday, August 15, 2008

Lakeland's Legacy

Perceptive piece by J. Lee Grady on the tragic debacle of the 'Lakeland Revival'.

Life after Lakeland: Sorting out the Confusion

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mind Games

As a Christian do I believe what I believe - simply because of my upbringing and cultural setting?

This was a question (or perhaps accusation) poised to John Lennox from the floor during his debate with Christopher Hitchens. It has also been raised in a related post on my blog.

This is the thinking that says: 'You are a Christian because you were taught to believe in Christianity - however, had you been brought-up in Saudi Arabia you would probably be a Muslim and believe just as passionately in that'. After all there are few converts to Christianity in Mecca.

The problem is, of course, that that argument works both ways. Because you yourself have to admit that if you are indifferent / lukewarm / sceptical about 'faith' and the existence of God, it is probably just because you were brought up in a home and/or country that culturally has those same type of attitudes (e.g. C21 Britain). That is, your point renders you as unable as those with faith to come to any objective conclusions about such matters.

If you protest, 'No I was brought up to believe that God did exist but through a process of reason and investigation came to the conclusion this was false' - then you have to concede - that the notion that people are inevitably prisoners of their upbringing & culture doesn't actually stand up (you have personally disproved it).

You therefore must extend to others the recognition that they too are capable of examining their beliefs, and coming to reasoned conclusions about their validity - albeit you may disagree with them. To do other is set-up atheists as somekind of uber-intelligentsia - while depicting those who come to other conclusions as feeble-minded and intellectually inferior. A sinister proposition indeed!

Another piece on this subject can be accessed HERE.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

On 'Mars Hill' Edinburgh

'The New Europe should prefer the New Atheism' - debate in Usher Hall, 9th August 2008.

Hosted by James Naughtie, Dr Christopher Hitchens & Prof John Lennox (Oxford University) debated the motion above. Thus ensued 90 minutes of very interesting and high quality discourse. Hitchens - urbane, carrying the constant whiff of disdain for the world around him, well read, and fascinating on his analysis of trends. Lennox - warm, with keenly structured arguments, and wonderfully unashamed to use the Bible and talk freely about Jesus.

It was the latter point that heartened me most - a man of the intellectual calibre of John Lennox, sitting in the ancient city of 'Enlightenment' thinking, surrounded by the savvy sophisticates of Edinburgh's Festival - who was clear and unembarrassed to speak of final judgement, miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Throughout the debate it was the mention of Jesus and references to the Bible that brought forth scornful tutting, heads thrown back in dismay, and incredulous yelps.

Yet above all it was the mention of the resurrection, just as it had done at Mars Hill in Athens, that aroused the greatest sneers. Hitchens, smiling as if he couldn't believe his opponent could be so tactically naive, responded with the words, 'Well I don't usually need 5 minutes to disprove the resurrection!' Laughter. Although interestingly he then said nothing more about it. This was Mars Hill - the Gospel regarded as the foolishness of fools.

For Lennox it would have been easy to stay on the 'safer ground' of philosophy, ethics and epistemology - that is, stuck to those areas deemed worthy of debate by the world's intelligentsia. But here was a man, praise God, who knows that his most powerful weapon, in bringing down the strongholds that oppose God and the Gospel, is to declare Jesus Christ risen from the dead. Just as at Mars Hill where the Gospel was regarded by many as foolishness, it is nonetheless for those who believe the very power of God for salvation. Lennox was a great example of knowing that apologetics could only take the Gospel so far - what people ultimately need to hear is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Saviour of sinners, and the one by whom God will judge the world as testified to by his resurrection.

Of course much of the other ground was covered as well, (let's pray for people like John Lennox who are able to defend the Faith in the public square), one such example was...

At the end each had 5mins to sum up - Hitchens was second so had the 'last word'. His piece de resistance (rather cunningly left to the end so that it couldn't be responded to) was: 'As an atheist is there anything immoral that I am compelled to do?' His answer: 'No, there nothing immoral I'm compelled to do by virtue of my atheism. However, if I hold religious belief can you think of anything immoral I may be compelled to do?' His answer: 'You've already thought of one haven't you!' Ta da - the curtain comes down (so to speak).

Now the obvious responses to that are:
1) that true religion is perfectly moral therefore it could not compel me to do anything immoral;
2) if God exists then atheism is intrinsically immoral - as it denies the source of your very life and tells a lie about reality;
3) if God does not exist then it is a meaningless question anyway - because the very terms 'moral' and 'immoral' just become expressions of personal preference.

Beyond that, however, I was trying to think (responding in Hitchens' terms, Pr 26:5), of an example of something immoral that atheism does compel someone to embrace/do/believe. The best I can do (and it's a bit of a mouthful) is - '

The immorality that atheism compels me to embrace/do/believe is that I need not be moral'.

Or atheism forces me to be immoral because it forces me to believe that I need not be moral.

Any other suggestions? Please post....

Monday, July 28, 2008

Considering Ministry?

...examine your own heart, your motives, very carefully. Very few ministers serve large, thriving churches. If that is your vision of what is ahead discount it. God may open up such formidable doors of opportunity; but you cannot count on it, and it must form no part of your decision. The overwhelming majority of pastors serve relatively small and unprepossessing churches. Many of them are called on to do what no amount of money could ever reimburse them for - officiating at the funeral of the town drunk whose intoxicated live-in girlfriend shrieks and mutters throughout the sparesly attended funeral service; burying a child dead of cancer at the age of nine months; presiding over a church broken up by angry and powerful members who show nothing of forebearance or grace (or even good sense). Out of the heat of these and countless other impossibily difficult circumstances, a heart for ministry (in the old sense of that word) is confirmed.

Read through Paul's epistles rather rapidly in three or four sittings and observe that it was his relations with Christians that gave him the greatest pain. Should you end up in vocational ministry, your experience will not be any different. By all means, talk to the leaders of your church and work through the Biblical passages on elders, pastors and overseers; but above all seek the Lord's face in prayer. You need not demand a kind of Damacus-road experience - few enjoy so immediate an experience of call. But if you know nothing of Spirit-prompted compulsion and a servant heart that has, as far as you know, counted the cost, I beg of you to relinquish all aspirations to pastoral ministry.

DA Carson & John D Woodbridge
Letters Along the Way, (Crossway 1993), p136

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pollokshaws Demolition (20 July 08)

Bringing down strongholds..

Another great clip that I couldn't embed can be found: HERE

Friday, July 18, 2008

Examining the Emergent Church

A must-read this summer...

Why We're Not Emergent (by two guys who should be),
Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck (Moody Publishers, 2008)

You may not have heard much about the 'Emergent Church' - but you will increasingly hear its views coming through in conversations about what Christianity & Church should look like in the C21. So getting up to speed on the thinking behind the EC and its theology is increasingly important for thinking Christians and church leaders.

The book is written by two '20/30 somethings' who write alternate chapters. DeYoung is a pastor who theologically analyses the writings and beliefs of the EC 'movement' (or 'conversation' as EC's prefer to call it). These chapters give a good solidly biblical assessment of the EC.

Kluck writes from 'street level' reflecting on the EC as he encounters it as an ordinary church member (going to EC churches, conferences and reading its popular books). His chapters are refreshingly written (he is a sports journalist by profession), full of telling observations and laced with a dry wit.

The book is a much easier read than Don Carson's 'Becoming Conversant with the Emergent Church' - so if you found that heavy weather don't be put off reading this. It was one of those books I found myself sneaking off to read - it was genuinely enjoyable.

The title obviously gives away where it’s going - but its strength is in its fairness. It's not a rant or a snide dig at the EC - it acknowledges its strengths and its challenges. It steers away from being partisan and tribal. So whatever your views on the EC (or even if you don't have any yet) - this is a subject you need to know about and this, to quote Mark Dever's review, is 'a book we've been waiting for'.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Full List of Posts: July 2008 - July 2009

The Blue Parakeet
Leadership - Corinthian or Christian?
Evangelicals & Secularists United!
In the beginning...
Hope for Ordinary Joes
A Hill Worth Fighting On?
Words Fail Me
for attaining wisdom...(5)
Wayne's World
for attaining wisdom...(4)
Praise Gathering '09
Piper on Preaching
for attaining wisdom...(3)
for attaining wisdom...(2)
for attaining wisdom...(1)
Humble Arrogance

Godly Fear
Thought Life
Harvest Church Plant
Easter Sunday - The Emotions
Easter Sunday - The Time
Easter Sunday - The Stone
Stretching preaching
Keller debate with atheist Norman Bacrac
Contains strong gospel content
The 'Jesus Test'
Harvest Bible Church
Right Relationships
Blood, toil, tears and sweat
6 O'Clock Theology Shop
Commander-in- Chief
Oh how He loves us.
New Cornhill Evening Classes
A Word from Ezra & Nehemiah
Christmas Gift
Taking Liberties
The Shack - a review
Be Gentle
SNAG 2008/09 - Faith or Fantasy
Day 5: Parched - Overwhelmed - Misjudged?
Day 4: Parched - Overwhelmed - Misjudged?
Day 3: Parched - Overwhelmed - Misjudged?
Day 2: Parched - Overwhelmed - Misjudged?
Parched - Overwhelmed - Misjudged?
Having a Laugh..
Tim Keller at Google
Lakeland's Legacy
Mind Games
On 'Mars Hill' Edinburgh
Considering Ministry?
Pollokshaws Demolition (20 July 08)
Examining the Emergent Church
Relevant Church

Relevant Church

Church seeks to change historic beliefs in order to be more reflective of modern society....

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Confessions of a Failed Atheist


"Do your fear death yourself?' 'Yeah. I think most people do. It's a cliche but you fear what's going to come afterwards, even though I don't think anything will come afterwards. Fear is probably the wrong word but I don't want to die."

Interview with John Humphrys in The Times Magazine, 14 June 2008.

John Humphrys has recently written a book called In God We Doubt: Confessions of a Failed Atheist (Hodder).

Friday, June 20, 2008

Honouring God with Empty Hands

Further to the post below (Paul's All or Nothing Gospel, June 08) - Miroslav Volf puts it this way...

"To want to earn benefits from God or to receive them as payback is to say three wrong things at once: (1) God is a negotiator God; (2) we can give something to God in exchange for something we want; and (3) we are agents independent of God who can relate to God any way we find to our liking. None of these things is true, however. God is not a negotiator but a pure giver. We can give nothing to God but have received eveything from God. Finally, we are not independent of God but are living on a given breath. To fail to recognise these things is to live blindly and to claim God's gifts as our own achievements. To recognise these truths is to understand ourselves as who we truly are, fundamentally receivers.

And that brings us to faith. Faith is not something we give to God. In that case, faith would be a work, and a silly kind of work because it would be work we do even though it doesn't benefit anyone. But exactly the opposite is true. To have faith in God is to be 'without works' before God (Romans 4:5). Faith is the way we as receivers relate appropriately to God as the giver. It is empty hands held open for God to fill. That's why, as Luther put it, faith 'honours God', it tells the truth about God and our relation to the divine Giver and ascribes to God what is due. In contrast, good works offered to God dishonour God; they tell a lie about God and our relation to the divine Giver, and they take away God's due."

M Volf, Free of Charge, (Zondervan, 2005), p43

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Paul's All or Nothing Gospel

The Men’s Wednesday Lunchtime Bible Study is looking at Galatians…

Galatians is, of course, one of the foundational books of the New Testament regarding how we understand the Gospel. Paul vigorously asserts his authority as an apostle who received his understanding of the Gospel directly from Jesus Christ (1:1,12,15). Paul is at pains to reject any notion that he had received his message about Jesus second-hand or even from other apostles. Indeed even the great apostolic figures of Peter, James & John could have no veto over Paul’s Gospel – as Paul’s Gospel was Jesus’ Gospel (a fact acknowledged by them, 2:7-9).

Paul’s boldness (bluntness) in insisting, even had it been necessary over the heads of the other apostles, on the authenticity of his Gospel leaves the reader of Galatians with only two options: either this man had actually met Jesus Christ face to face and been directly instructed by Him – or he was an utterly deluded ego-maniac who managed to hoodwink the entire early church including those who had been closest to Jesus during His life.

It was that direct calling by God and instruction in the Gospel that gave (and gives) Paul the authority to define the Gospel. The Gospel is what Paul says it is – because what Paul says is what Jesus says.

So to Galatians, Paul’s Gospel – the Gospel – is one that rejects any salvation outside faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Reliance on law-keeping, religious ceremony and moral performance of any kind are utterly rejected (2:16). They are rejected – and this is massively important – not just as superfluous to the Gospel but as a rejection of the Gospel. That is, the Gospel becomes void if these other things are entertained (2:21).

Now this is very significant – because when we tolerate a different version of the Gospel (e.g. along with faith in Jesus you really need baptism, regular communion, certain spiritual gifts, the last rites, or even a stint in purgatory to be sure of salvation) we are not just bringing in some unnecessary ‘extras’ – things we could have safely done without but we are stepping away from salvation itself (1:6-9; 4:9-11,30).

Strong stuff – it is Jesus Christ, His Death – nothing else – take it or leave - but don’t think it still stands if you add anything to it. Why? Why is this salvation ground so narrow, so exclusive? Why does Jesus and His work on the Cross have to be the total ground of salvation rather than just the minimum? Why can’t we accept others on the basis that we both agree that Jesus is central in salvation – and leave any add-ons at the level of mature / immature Christianity for example.

Perhaps we forget too easily (in our human-centred world) that the statement ‘I will not yield my glory to another’ (Is 48:11) is not just a throw-away line. God demands, rightly, that He alone is worshipped – He is the One true God. The gods of the other nations are no gods and not to be worshipped. The first commandment forbids any notion that another could be allowed to share in God’s worship. Could we envisage our worship being acceptable to God on a Sunday if we had a Baal shrine on the go in the vestry? Would we contemplate using the argument, ‘well its probably not needed but what harm can it do?’

Is God being a bit over-sensitive in all this? Can’t we envisage a more relaxed kind of God who shrugs His shoulders at such mistakes – knowing He can put us all right in the end without the need to be so uptight now? So your spouse marries you but keeps a lover on the side – ok it’s a distraction, it not exactly affirming of you, but you can still be thankful that you get most of their affection. Hideous – isn’t it, stomach turningly wrong!

We need to see what Paul saw – what Paul received from Jesus Himself – that the glory of Christ cannot be shared with anyone or anything else. Just as to reject God as the One True God is to reject God – so rejecting salvation by faith alone in Jesus alone is to reject salvation.

The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Reason for God - Quotes

The Reason for God - Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Timothy Keller, (Dutton, 2008)
(See post, 2 June 08, for link to website.)

Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite….

People, we believe, ought not to suffer, be excluded, die of hunger or oppression. But the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak – these things are all perfectly natural. On what basis then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, and unjust? (p26)

The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us. (p30)

The Biblical view of things is the resurrection – not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted. (p32)

Surely it will have to be ‘one way’, God’s way. God, the divine being, has all the power. I must adjust to God – there is no way that God could adjust to and serve me….
In the most profound way, God has said to us in Christ, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you though it means a sacrifice for me’. (p49)

Quoting CS Lewis: ‘There are only two kinds of people – those who say “Thy will be done’ to God or those to whom God in the end says, “Thy will be done’.

I ask you to put on Christianity like a pair of spectacles and look at the world with it. See what power it has to explain what we know and see. (p123)

Stephen Hawkings concludes: ‘The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the Big Bang are enormous. I think there are clearly religious implications.’ (p130)

So according to the Bible, the primary way to define sin is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things. (p162)

When my own personal grasp of the gospel [grace] was very weak, my self-view swung wildly between two poles. When I was performing up to my standards – in academic work, professional achievement, or relationships – I felt confident but not humble. I was likely to be proud and unsympathetic to people. When I was not living up to standards, I felt humble but not confident, a failure. (p180)

Sometimes people approach me and say, 'I really struggle with this aspect of Christian teaching. I like this part of Christian belief, but I don’t think I can accept that part’. I usually respond: ‘If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? (p202)

A man once said to a pastor that he would be happy to believe in Christianity if the cleric could only give him a watertight argument for its truth. The pastor replied, ‘What if God hasn’t given us a watertight argument, but rather a watertight person?’ (p232)

During a dark time in her life, a woman in my congregation complained that she had prayed over and over, “God, help me find you’, but had gotten nowhere. A Christian friend suggested to her that she might change her prayer to, ‘God, come and find me. After all, you are the Good Shepherd who goes looking for the sheep’. She concluded, when she was recounting this to me, ‘The only reason I can tell you this story is – he did.’ (p240)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


An oldie but what a great clip for an evangelistic talk!

Monday, June 02, 2008

An Intelligent Faith

A must read for any Christian with sensitive & thinking non-Christian friends.

Tim Keller's book is a goldmine of thoughtful analysis concerning common objections to faith and Christianity. The first part of the book gives sufficient reasons to reject 'unbelief' while the second half gives reasons for believing Christianity.

You'll want to underline stuff on every page - a book you could give to non-Christian friends & colleagues without any fear of a cringe factor.

Check out the the website & hear Keller's own comments on why he wrote it...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Weary of Worship?

David Field recently posed the question on his blog: 'Why was Old Testament worship so time consuming?' It's a question that should give pause for thought - after all the whole business of worship in the OT with its daily/weekly/monthly/yearly sacrifices, its feasts, and ceremonies was hugely demanding in terms of time & energy. I suspect that if a similar arrangement was being proposed today many would label it 'self indulgent'. The accusation would be that these people would be much better off doing something 'useful', helping other people, etc. Indeed, as David Field notes, wouldn't Israel have been better to use such time getting out and evangelising the Hittites and Jebusites?

Perhaps in our church or individual lives we sometimes have similar thoughts - I mean all the church meetings and services, time spent listening to preaching, singing, praying etc - all valuable time! Maybe we even think that it's a bit self-indulgent of God to demand so much of our time - surely He would be happy if we spent it in more 'productive' ways? So in our church activity the prayer time is squeezed as we have a full agenda to get through and the equipment won't put itself up! Or we skip the evening service because we have more practical (important) business to attend to.

There is a pressure in many Christian circles today on church time - a pressure that says 'less and shorter please'. Perhaps some of the thinking underpinning this is, 'I could use my time just as profitably without these services - I can survive spiritually just as well meeting God 'one to one'.

There is nothing new under the sun so we can safely assume that such pressure is not new. I wonder if Israel felt a little of this frustration - they had just come out of Egypt and were looking forward to getting to the Promised Land. They had battles to fight, houses to claim, crops to reap - they must have been straining to get on with the journey. But God slows them right down and in Exodus 25 commands construction of the Tabernacle - so that it would be a full year from leaving Egypt before they could move again. In Numbers the first ten chapters cover a period of just 20 days with great detail about in-camp preparations - the following ten chapters slide over a period of 40 years (i.e. the stories we have most interest in). In short, God clearly puts a great premium on the time His people spend attending directly to their relationship with Him.

The Tabernacle had the function (among others) of forcing Israel to prioritise God - to stop and give Him their attention. Can I suggest that our church services have a similar function - they are obstacles to weeks spent without any undiluted focus on God - they prevent us from living lifes where God ends up getting just the fag-end of our time. Without such structured breaks in our week we could very easily let our relationship with God slip onto the back-burner (goodness knows its a struggle even with the challenges, encouragements and support we get when we do attend church regularly).

Biblical salvation is God calling out individuals to be part of His 'people' (plural). We are called to become part of a new family, community and body. And like any body part the longer we are detached or isolated from the whole the more we become weakened, diminished and vulnerable.

Just as Israel met with God at the Tabernacle in a special way (I mean, it wasn't as if He wasn't with them everywhere) - so Christians meet Jesus in a special way when they come together, Matthew 18:20. Therefore when we don't meet to worship God collectively we are missing out on something extra!

So a final question to ponder: in a week of 168 hours how many hours spent in such a way do you feel is excessive - 2/4/6...?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Giant slaying - 'ANXIETY' is his name.

In the light of Ken McPhail's excellent sermon on Anxiety (wise, practical, biblical & worth getting on CD) - let me offer a few further thoughts via a college paper of mine...

...accessible HERE.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Teaching - it's a deal-breaker

On what basis does Paul break fellowship with others in church life? Well clearly he breaks fellowship in situations where an individual is continuing unrepentantly in sin - e.g. I Cor 5, where a church member is 'put out of fellowship' until such a time that he repents and changes his ways. Most evangelicals today would recognise the need for such action in the face of such blatant sinfulness.

However, Paul also breaks fellowship over teaching - that is, in situations where individuals are disseminating false doctrine. In this category would come Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim 1:20). These two individuals were clearly causing problems in the early church by teaching things contrary to Apostolic Gospel. Hymaneus was responsible, at least, for misleading Christians about the resurrection (2 Tim 2:17ff).

Paul it seems was as concerned about the purity of doctrine (teaching) as he was about the purity of lifestyles - the two, of course, being inextricably linked in Biblical faith (2 Cor 7:1). In contrast the world of C21 evangelicalism has a much less consistent approach . So church members caught with 'their hand in the till' can expect sanctions - whereas those peddling unorthodox views on the Atonement, for example, will more often than not be left unchecked - certainly at any formal level. The irony being than in turning a blind eye to doctrinal sin (let's call it what it is!) we stoke up the likelihood of moral sin among Christians - if you think that's a bit strong then read 2 Peter 2 and Jude.

Part of our propensity to fudge taking clear action against unbiblical teaching is the 'nice guy' syndrome. I'm often baffled by the apparent attitude of many in churches today that says: 'Well I know the Bible talks about there being false teachers arising from the flock - but whoever those people might be they won't be any of my friends'. The thinking being that 'so & so' is really nice person who does a lot of good things - therefore his views should be given credence (even if I personally don't agree with them).

Well let's get back Hymaneus & Alexander - Paul breaks fellowship with them not because....
a) they aren't nice guys who don't do anything commendable - actually if they weren't then Christians would probably be much less likely to be deceived by them;
b) they aren't Christians - Paul doesn't say they aren't genuine Christians - in fact his words in 1 Tim 1:20 suggest excommunication is in order to restore rather than convert.

No, Paul breaks fellowship with them because of what they teach - just as he rejected the legalists and the mystics elsewhere. It is the 'teaching' of these people that is the deal-breaker - because without truth there is no basis for salvation or holiness. So New Testament Christianity says, you may be a fine person in other respects, you may even be a genuine Christian - but if you persist in unbiblical teaching then we cannot work and worship together as brothers in arms.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Vision by numbers

I’ve written on the subject of ‘Vision’ previously but a couple of quotes I came across recently got me thinking again…

Here in North America we now live in what I call the era of the visionary church. Almost every pastor is judged on the basis whether he/she has a vision. And usually that means a vision of how the church can grow, grow, grow. The pastoral care of the people – which for hundreds of years has been the aim of the church – is less important in comparison to the gathering of more people. Because more people means more programs, more buildings and more employed staff. Doubtless this is not all bad if it results in bringing unchurched people into the kingdom of God. But one wants to watch a lot of this ‘vision’ and ask how much of it is satisfying the need of a driven leader … My speculation will probably irritate some….
Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World, p48

There are churches that love to count but not to feed the sheep.
Dale Ralph Davis, Joshua: No Falling Words, p157

Now as Pastor MacDonald says it may be that a few backs are already starting to ‘bristle’ at this point – so it’s worth stating that this is not about to be some dig at forward thinking leaders or the need to accommodate growing congregations. Nevertheless it is interesting that having a ‘vision’ today in church life is commonly expressed in terms of numbers – and that having a numerical target is almost de rigueur if you are to qualify for the title of being ‘a leader with vision’. I suspect that the current fashion for numerical targets is just that – a current fashion. Two or even one hundred years ago you do not get the impression from the diaries and writings of previous church leaders that their vision was thus focused. But we live in a culture where success is typically measured by growth – improving turnover, maximising margins, expanding into new markets – business is ‘sexy’ and its values prevail. The new rock stars are captains of industry and commerce – we are the Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice generation. Churches are not immune – Fortune magazine coined a new name, ‘Pastor-preneurs’: to decribe a new generation of church leaders building mega-churches and creating multi-national ministries.

Again as quoted above this is not necessarily something to be cynical about – God is not restricted to some ‘nickle & dime’ affair when it comes to granting blessing and growth. But however, as is often the mistake we make with Spiritual Gifts, growth should follow us (in God’s grace) as we follow Jesus – not vice versa. It does seem a classic case of putting the ‘cart before the horse’ to start off ministry on the basis of setting a numerical target - which for most must be a fairly arbitary figure – 500, 1000, 10,000???? On a personal level I’ve felt the pressure of this culture – the feeling that to be a ‘real’ leader I need this type of ‘vision’ – and if I’m honest it has lead me to overstate my convictions about certain plans at times – as you feel a need to advocate such plans with an almost prophetic conviction to fit this type of ‘leadership bill’.

Instead the New Testament model is of people declaring the gospel and living it out – God then added to the church such as should be saved – sometimes that was huge numbers at other times it was the ones and twos. For the church the challenge was then to disciple these people – to feed the sheep. That means, for us, having facilities and premises to accommodate our congregations and nurture Christians through the various activities and groups we run. So if the Lord is blessing a local church with growth it is prudent and responsible to be thinking ahead – planning to provide that extra room – and yes while we’re at it building in room for possible future growth.

Because if we reverse that order there is the danger that our ministry aim becomes ‘making a great name for ourselves’ (sound familiar?) rather than a focus on making God’s Word fully known in proclamation and deed.

So Andy – what is your vision? Well let me have a go at summarising it:

For the church to be a place where God’s Word is faithfully and fully taught, a place where Christians are cared for and feel ‘at home’, a place where outsiders are welcomed and can hear and see the Gospel plainly declared, a place where as people get to grips with the Gospel in all its fullness that the fruit of that Word & Spirit work will be lives of holiness, fruitfulness, outreach and service in their walk with God, a place where every person feels valued and their unique blend of life experience and gifting can be employed for the building-up of others and the glory of Christ.

If we can truly be that kind of church then we can have confidence that God will look after the numbers.

Friday, April 11, 2008

'The Lost Message...' - if only!

I've mentioned previously when posting some of his quotes how much I enjoy the writings of Prof. Donald MacLeod - this post of his on the Reformation21 site is typical of his 'cut through the hype' style.

So for for those still starry eyed about Emergent theology check out his review of
'The Lost Message of Jesus'

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Jesus Driven Ministry - Quotes (3)

You really should buy this book!

Truth and urgency
Consequently, a major feature that attracted people to the gospel in previous generations – the urgency coming from the sense that this is absolutely true… [is] much less a feature of the church. It seems that in place of urgency some growing churches are attracting people through entertainment. Growing churches generally serve a high quality programme that is attractive and entertaining. As one in involved in youth ministry, I can testify to the effectiveness of entertainment in attracting people from outside the church so that they come within the sound of the gospel.

But entertainment must always be a servant of truth. Unfortunately, given our pragmatism, we may sometimes neglect some important objective truths such as the Atonement, the reality of judgement, and the need for holiness because those concepts are not very entertaining. These doctrines don’t seem to produce good subjective feelings, and that factor may, in practise, be more influential in determining a church programme than the fact that a given truth is a biblical doctrine. So we could produce a generation of Christians who do not include many unpleasant doctrines in their worldview (their basic approach to life). The result will be an unhealthy church. (p121)

…both John and Jesus were quite specific about the things that people need to repent of… (p124)

Specifics help people to understand what is involved in repentance. (p124)

The failure to be specific in our call to repentance could result in people not realising that Christianity cannot coexist with some terrible sins. (p124)

Today we find that some Christians are very proud of their doubts and do not attempt to resolve them. Perhaps this is a reaction to the shallow dogmatism and easy-believism often seen in evangelical circles. Yet I believe that some people are using these problems as an excuse for intellectual and spiritual laziness. When confronted by others about their uncertainty, they say they are ‘working on it’. But in reality they are not waging an all-out battle to find an answer to their problems. That uncertainty will leave them ineffective and without a real message to give to the world. (p129)

Working with others
What if we do not like some of the team members we ‘inherit’? Say, a senior pastor is appointed from outside a church… There is one person on this team who makes him feel uneasy. Perhaps he thinks that he will have conflicts with this person or that person would not respond well to his leadership style. Perhaps he has doubts about the person’s abilities.

What should the new pastor do? Some would say that he should ask the person to leave. Such a response comes the highly individualistic theology found especially among evangelical Christians, which I believe, violates the Biblical teaching of corporate solidarity within the people of God. This theology gives certain people the freedom to change churches when they don’t like a new pastor. There isn’t the sense of being committed to a body ‘in sickness and in health; for richer for poorer.’

We can imply from the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians that he would have been revolted by this lack of permanence in the commitment we have to fellow Christains. In the body of Christ we do not reject people because we do not like them.

Perhaps the tragedy with the evangelical church is that feelings overcome theology very often in determining the way we decide and act. The biblical Christian says, ‘Whatever my feelings are about this person, I will accept him because God wants me to do so. And I will ask God to give me the grace to work harmoniously with him’. Our theology says that this effort at working with the person will succeed, even though our feelings may give another message. Our theology drives us to work hard at this relationship. We pray for the person and about our relationship with him. We meet with him regularly. We seek to show Christian love to him and do all that we can for his personal welfare. (p133)

I have had a few situations in Youth for Christ and at church when I’ve needed to work closely with a person whom I would not have chosen. Once or twice the person initially seemed to imply that he did not want to work under my leadership. Most often I have found, that after some time, I have come to like the person. I pray almost daily for the people with whom I work closely, and when you pray for someone so regularly, you automatically develop a special affinity with that person. Usually, after some time, I have also come to recognise great value in the person. (p134)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Jesus Driven Ministry - Quotes (2)

Some more quotes for Ajith Fernando - from his chapter: 'Saturated in the Word'

If we are to live holy lives, we need to be saturated with the Word. Jesus prayed, “sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth’ (John 17:17) p90

‘Oh give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book]. (John Wesley) p91

My ground is the Bible. Yea, I am a Bible bigot. I follow it in all things, both great and small’. (John Wesley) p92

‘It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until you come to talk in Scriptural language and your spirit is flavoured with the words of the Lord, so that your blood is Bibline..’ (CH Spurgeon) p92

If we give up on Biblical principles for quick results or what seems to be an easier way out of problems, we lose the security of being anchored to the Word. This loss of security is, I believe, a primary cause for burnout in the ministry. We become restless – and start to act out of that restlessness. Our spirits can’t handle the strain of such a course for too long. We will lack the strenght for long term ministry.’ p94

In the ministry the people we serve are very fickle, and their actions inflict deep pain upon on us. These blows that come in ministry can be very hard on our emotions. To experience such responses after we have sacrificed so much for others can be so hurtful. This is why the ministry is never a good primary source for our security. Burnout is very high in the helping professions. p95

‘This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success’ (Joshua 1:8). The two basic teachings of this verse are that 1) a leader must spend a lot of time in the Word and think about it all the time, and 2) the obedience that results from such exposure to the Word is the key to the leader’s success. This is why I have no hesitation to tell young ministers that if they do not spend unhurried time in the Word (and in prayer) daily, they have no future in terms of effectiveness in ministry. p101

‘When a minister stops studying, he simply stops’ p104

I heard about a minister who left the ministry and went into other work burned out and discouraged. He had even left his library behind in his last church. When his successor at this church came and went through the library, he found that most of the ex-pastor’s earlier books were on the Bible and theology while most of the books he had aquired more recently were books on practical topics. The ex-pastor was a typical product of our pragmatic age. Possibly his pragmatism did not give him the resouces to remain fresh in ministry over a long period. How sad it is that many Christian leaders who used to spend long hours with the Scriptures in their early years as Christians do not do so anymore. And how dangerous it is for themselves and for those they lead. p104

Let us pray and work until once again evangelical Christians will be known as ‘Bible Christians’, the term John Wesley liked to use to describe the early Methodists. P106)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Jesus Driven Ministry - Quotes

Have been reading Jesus Driven Ministry by Ajith Fernando (IVP) - which I can't recommend too highly. For anyone involved in Christian ministry (small 'm') it will challenge and refresh. Below are some extracts - more to follow.

A famous Christian leader is reported to have said he used to complain to God about the interruptions he had from his work when God reminded him that these interruptions were his work! All of us have been irritated by occurrences that seem to be demonically designed to disturb our peace of mind and upset our program of life. But we must remember that God is sovereign; nothing happens in our lives without his consent. Therefore we should look carefully at annoyances to see if we can discern God’s hand at work. (p25)

Biblical leaders should be so devoted to their people that in order to help them, the leaders abstain from doing some things that they want to do and perform some tasks they do not like to do. Because of their commitment to a group of people they will persevere in working with them even though inconvenient and seemingly fruitless. The leader’s feelings may say, ‘Drop this work and do something more productive and satisfying. These people do not deserve your commitment.’ But because of the leader’s commitment to the people they refuse to give up on it. (p22)

I have a fear that the church in the West will disqualify itself from being a missionary-sending religion by portraying to its membership a Christianity that is a nice religion but lacks a radical edge. In my visits to the West the most common response I hear to sermons I have preached is something to the effect: ‘I enjoyed that sermon.’ Sermons should disturb, convict, and motivate to radical and costly obedience. I have wondered whether people’s desired result from sermons is to enjoy themselves rather than be changed into radical disciples who will turn the world upside down…

A minor feature of worship – bringing enjoyment – has become a primary feature. Such a church may grow numerically but it will not be able to produce the type of missionaries that the world needs – men and women who will pay the price of identification with the people they serve and endure the frustrations that involves. (p23)

The aspect of the Spirit giving power for service has become very prominent in the church and has been effective in attracting outsiders to the church. This is good and to be desired. But perhaps because of the current marketing orientation of the church, this feature that attracts outsiders has been emphasised almost to the exclusion of the other role of the Spirit as the one who helps form character.
The result of neglecting the latter aspect of the Spirit’s work is that we are seeing a high incidence of moral and spiritual failure among people with powerful ministries…
We all, including those whose primary gifts are preaching and teaching, have to guard against Satan’s trap that lulls us into neglecting the battle against unholiness. He may convince us that we are doing all right because of the apparent power that accompanies our ministries…(p33)

Our life will catch up with our ministry (p33)

‘Burnout takes place when the wick and not the oil is burning’ (p36)

We often react in the wrong way when we face opposition and crisis. We can become overcautious, as the following responses show: “I will never witness in hostile surroundings again’. ‘I will never suggest a radical departure from the norm again. This church is not ready for or interested in change’. ‘I am not cut out for this work. Maybe I should resign’. (p38)

In a time a crisis, before we meet hostile people, we must first meet God. (p39)

Unction – ‘that mystic plus in preaching which no-one can define and no-one (with any spiritual sentivity at all) can mistake’…
‘If nothing else revealed the poverty of our secret prayers, the absence of unction would. Able preaching can often reveal the cleverness of a man… Unction reveals the presence of God’. (p43)

Insecure leaders…
Some become too possessive of they people they minister to and cling too tighly to them…
Some become too possessive of the work itself. They will not hand over a job to someone who can do it better…
Insecure leaders find it difficult to handle criticism and obstacles in their way. Anyone will get hurt and discouraged when such things happen. But those who derive their primary satisfaction from God can snap back after a time. Those who get primary satisfaction from their work often lose control and react excessively in a way that harms people and the work…
Some are obsessed by a burning desire to show people that they are capable… Such people will never be happy, for people are fickle and unreliable when it comes to expressing appreciation for our work.
Some seem to very humble, examples of a servant spirit. They work hard and follow instructions. They are ever ready to help others, but deep down they are bitter… They may say that they do not work for recognition, but they are angry that they have been taken for granted. We may not see this anger at first, but sometimes it comes out, usually in an outburst that leaves the recipient stunned…

I think most of us suffer to some extent with the tendencies we have just outlined. It is when these attitudes control us that the problems become serious. When we find such reactions welling up inside of us, we should take it as an occasion to seek God afresh so that our identity, security, and significance come primarily from him. (p58)

A retreat acts an antidote to activism where our fulfillment comes from our busy activity rather than from God. Activism is one of the great pitfalls we face in ministry, and being away from our busy schedules helps orient our minds in a spiritual direction. (p63)

‘We are uncomfortable with silence because silence forces us to face God.’ (p63)

‘The question that must guide all organising activity in a parish is not how to keep people busy, but how to keep them from being so busy that they no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in silence.’ (p65)

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Gospel according to Hollywood

Recent months have seen a flurry of email debate on the subject of 'Inclusivism'. Very simplistically, this is the teaching (increasingly seeping into 'some 'Evangelical' thinking) that explicit faith in Jesus is not essential for a person to saved - so that a sincere & pious person could be saved on that basis especially if they have little or no knowledge of Jesus themselves. Inclusivists argue that it is presumptous and arrogant for us to exclude such people from benefitting from the salvation that comes through Jesus just because they don't meet our framework of understanding - e.g. having some measure of explicit faith in Jesus as the Son of God etc. A much fuller and better summary of Inclusivism has been written by John Thomson and is accessible HERE. My own contribution to the debate is written below....

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of my father’s death and so I visited the Hall of Remembrance at Linn Park to look at the entry for him in the Book of Remembrance and have a few quiet thoughts. My father was not a Christian, would never have claimed to be and in fact would have expressed an ‘open mind’ about whether God existed or not. As a Christian, dare I say an evangelical Christian, these facts are obviously a great sorrow to me. However, I ultimately have to place my feelings against the reality of a God before whom no-one will be treated unfairly or dealt with in anyway that is inconsistent with His good character – in this regard I can have total confidence that any punishment will absolutely ‘fit the crime’. These are genuinely painful words for me to write – but what I must resist is the temptation to customise a theology to sit more comfortably with my situation. I cannot stand over God’s Word and mould it according to my preferences and inclinations. I must stand under it even when that is a hard thing for me to do.

The reason ‘exclusivsm’ has been the historic orthodox belief of the church was not because people in the past were more callous, or because life was easier then (quite the converse generally), or because scholarship was less thorough – but because the view that prevailed (starting incidently with those closest to the Scriptures in time, culture and language) was that its ‘plain meaning’ predicated salvation on confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and believing that God had raised him from the dead (Rom 10:9). Of course, we could add repentance, obedient discipleship, and perseverance etc - but we should be very wary of subtracting from the Bible’s repeated expectations of what true & saving faith will look like. Indeed in terms of where we default on the Gospel surely it would be cupable rather than generous to dilute it and thus risk a complacency that could (and almost inevitably will) lessen the evangelistic imperative – afterall there is all the difference in the world between reaching people because we want to save their souls as opposed to enhance their lifestyles.

Does this mean that the Gospel has ceased to be ‘good news’ and instead become ‘bad news’ for those who do not know God or obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus (1 Th 1:8)? Well yes, I suppose, in the sense that the gospel is also ‘foolishness’ to those who perish – but to those it saves it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18). However, just as the lifeboat doesn’t become ‘bad news’ because not everyone gets on it, the Gospel doesn’t become bad news because not everyone will be saved.

The problem, I perceive, with ‘inclusivism’ and other neo-liberal theology, if you want a downside, is that it ultimately takes us to universalism or salvation through works. It may be comforting to those from religious backgrounds who hope that enough ‘faith stuff’ will have rubbed off on their families and friends to ‘see them alright’ – but it leaves no hope for those from non-religious backgrounds. Unless of course we go down a works based basis of salvation – e.g. he’s a really sincere kind of guy as opposed to being one of those nasty yobs.
Alternatively we just tip over into ‘universalism’ because with Marcion of old we strip God’s character down to ‘kindness, unconditional love [although presumably not for the devil], empathy, generoisty, grace, and a pensive yearning for community’. Thus overlooking His holiness, justice, purity, righteousness etc. Indeed if God, as has been suggested, would never reject one of his children ‘no matter how wayward or rebellious they have been’ – why would anyone go to Hell? Surely every person would be saved? But ‘inclusivists’ aren’t apparently ‘universalists’. Instead they create a ‘religious exclusivism’ wherein salvation is for those who have religious tendencies or humanitarian concerns – a kind of ‘Gospel according to Hollywood’ in which decent folks go to heaven and only the real 'baddies' go to hell.

If inclusivism depends on having to drive a wedge between Jesus and Paul (or Matthew and John for that matter) then it undermines both. For all we know of the Gospel comes to us through the apostles – Jesus never wrote a book. So everything we read about Jesus is mediated to us through an apostolic writer – why do we assume that Matthew has more authority or insight than Paul or John?

‘God is a rewarder of those who seek him’ – what does it mean? It means what it says. But the next question is: who seeks Him? The Bible says there is ‘no-one who seeks God’ (Rom 3:11). Those worshiping idols (that are no gods – and certainly not the True Lord, Ps 96:5) are not seeking ‘Him’ – to worship Baal was not regarded as seeking, albeit in a bit of a muddle, Yahweh. Some worship money, others their stomachs, others corrupt dieties of their own imagination – but they are not seeking the LORD. Only by hearing the Gospel can people know who to call upon and thus be saved (Rom 10:13-14).

Like every generation we stand at a fork in the road – between the historic faith delivered to the saints and a new proposition. In the C19 it was rationalism (trying to accommodate the faith to science), in the C20 it was materialism/prosperity gospel (trying to accommodate the faith with Western wealth). In the C21 it seems to be pluralism. Each a response to cultural pressures and the fear of being out on a limb. Liberal theology always prides itself on being at the cutting edge of theology when in reality it is usually just at the trailing edge of society. It may be that in a culture saturated with pluralistic values that some in the church have quite independently come up with a theology that coincidently dovetails with it – but however it has arisen it surely cannot claim to be any part of historic evangelical belief.